Posted: March 25, 2011
It’s bad enough to have tooth decay, but add an infection to the tooth and you have a very painful situation. A tooth abscess or infection can be the result of a complication from tooth decay, or from trauma to the tooth. Either way, it allows bacteria to infect the center of the tooth (known as the pulp). If you are unlucky enough to have an abscess, you will have a lot of pain, because the infection may spread out from the root of the tooth into the gum and to the bones supporting the tooth as well.
The infection of the pulp of the tooth is a collection of dead tissue and bacteria within it that is cause for great concern. This often causes swelling of the tissues within the tooth that brings about great pain due to the pressure of the swelling against the hard tooth structure. However, if the pulp continues to die, your toothache may stop for a while since the nerve inside the tooth has effectively been rendered dead. The bacteria and infection by-products will likely result in an abscess which is an encapsulated space at the bottom of the tooth root that is filled with the infection and your body’s infection fighting cells. Your body is an ingenuous machine when it creates an abscess. It is basically trying to prevent the infection from spreading throughout the body by isolating it. The longer an abscess remains and continues to develop, the likelihood the infection may continue to spread and affect other tissues or teeth.
So how do you know you have a tooth infection? Simple--the pain! However, if this is not enough to self-diagnose, there are other symptoms to look for. First, you will experience a severe and continuous toothache. You will also experience a "sick" feeling that might include a fever. But the most serious symptom to be wary of is swelling of your jaw. This will be accompanied by a bitter taste in the mouth, bad breath, tooth sensitivity and swelling of glands in your neck.
You should never ignore any of these symptoms. If you experience a severe toothache accompanied by the other symptoms described above, you need to see your dentist immediately. A tooth infection if left untreated can result in dangerous complications. If the infection spreads to the jaw bone, you will not be able to eat, speak, or smile without discomfort. The soft tissue on the floor of your mouth, under your tongue, will also be inflamed and may be infected as well. And, of course, you may lose your tooth in the bargain. Some of the damage done to the tooth cannot be repaired, and the only solution will be to extract it. You will then need to consider cosmetic options to restore the missing tooth. The very worst complication is that an abscess can enter your bloodstream, and infect it as well. If that happens, it can eventually lead to infections of organs like your heart, your brain, and--in the worst-case scenario--even death. So abscesses are never to be ignored.
Prevention of such infections is a matter of remaining diligent about your oral health. For example try to avoid tooth decay by brushing and flossing regularly, or at least have it treated by your dentist as soon as you discover it. Also, if you experience any trauma to your tooth, please make sure that you see a dental professional as soon as you can to take care of it. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”